The White Rabbit: “I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!”
Alice: “Curiouser and curiouser!”
This entry of the Reel Classics is a bit different from past films—it is a well-known animated feature from the studios of Walt Disney. Alice In Wonderland has long been one of my favorite Disney films starting from the time I first saw it as a young boy. Over the years, I have seen it on TV and in theaters, shared it (via VHS) with my kids, and return to it on occasion for my own escape into the fantasy world established by Lewis Carroll.
Disney’s film is an adaptation of the two Alice adventures written by Lewis Carroll–“Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland” (1865) and “Through The Looking Glass” (1871). The concept of Alice originated when Lewis Carroll was entertaining the three daughters of a friend with his storytelling. The character “Alice” was inspired by one of the daughters, Alice Liddell. She loved the stories and asked him to write them down on paper. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was published three years later with beautiful illustrations done by John Tenniel.
The film is full of interesting and fascinating characters. It begins with Alice in a park listening to her older sister reading from a history book—trying to educate young Alice. Alice is much more intrigued by her pet cat, Dinah, and with the nature surrounding her. While gazing about her, she spots White Rabbit, dressed in a jacket and hat and holding a watch. The rabbit is running and worried about being late for an engagement and disappears down a rabbit hole. Alice follows the rabbit into the hole and comes to a door with a talking door knob. She is too large to get through the door, so the door knob advises her to drink from the bottle on the table. She does so and shrinks in size, enabling her to get through the door. And so the adventure begins.
In this new and fascinating world, Alice meets a host of odd and interesting characters, including the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Cheshire Cat, the Smoking Caterpillar, Dodo, and the Queen of Hearts. She attends a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, plays croquet with the Queen, and has various interactions with the Cheshire Cat and the Smoking Caterpillar. While in Wonderland, she discovers a mushroom that will make her big or make her small—a discovery that benefits her in her adventures.
Walt Disney was intrigued with the storyline and, as early as 1933, was looking at doing a feature-length live-action and animated film starring the veteran actress of the silent film era, Mary Pickford. However, the focus shifted to Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs and the project was put on hold. In 1939 a storyline was put together by Disney’s writers, but he was not happy with the result and, again, the project was put off while work proceeded on other animated features. The film was finally completed and Disney utilized the new medium of television to promote it. One Hour In Wonderland aired on Christmas Day in 1950 promoting the film. It was released to theaters in 1951.
There are a host of known actors doing the voices of the characters in the film. Ed Wynn was the Mad Hatter, and the character was drawn to look like Ed Wynn. Sterling Holloway portrayed the Cheshire Cat, Jerry Colona was the March Hare and J. Pat O’Malley did the voices of the Walrus, the Carpenter, as well as both Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee. If the names don’t sound familiar, check them out — I am pretty sure you will recognize the faces. A newcomer portrayed Alice—Kathryn Beaumont. She was just ten years old when she was chosen to play the part. She also provided a number of live-action scenes for the artists to copy her actions from. Kathryn Beaumont later portrayed the part of Wendy Darling in Disney’s Peter Pan in 1953.
Unfortunately, Alice in Wonderland did not do as well at the box office as Disney had hoped. It made $2.4 million at the box office but had cost $3 million to produce. He was very disappointed and decided to run the film on his television show “The Magical World of Disney” in 1954—hoping to generate new interest. His hope did come to pass, but not until the sixties. At that time, Disney learned that this film had become the most popular rental film on college campuses and with private individuals. It was becoming a “cult classic” with the young generation of the sixties, helped along by the music and lyrics of the Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.”
One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don’t do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she’s ten feet tall
And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you’re going to fall
Tell ’em a hookah-smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call
When she was just small
When the men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice
I think she’ll know
When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s off with her head
Remember what the dormouse said
Feed your head
Feed your head
Disney decided to re-release the film in 1974 and it grossed $3.5 million at that time. It was later released on VHS and DVD and today is viewed as one of Disney’s best animated features.
There are many other live-action versions of Alice in Wonderland, including the 2010 release directed by Tim Burton starring Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, and Anne Hathaway. A radio adaptation of the Disney film was broadcast on the “Lux Radio Theater” on Christmas Eve 1951 with Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn, and Jerry Colona.
Alice in Wonderland is filled with music and songs and received an Oscar nomination for best music, scoring of a musical. The title song, “Alice In Wonderland,” was later recorded by jazz musician Dave Brubeck and became a jazz standard.
The Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) rates Alice In Wonderland at 7.4 out of 10. On Rotten Tomatoes, the critic’s score is 84%, and the audience score is 78%. My personal rating would be much higher. I enjoyed this movie when I was a child, a college student, a father of young children, and earlier this week. It is a wonderful “trip” into a world of wonder and fantasy that can be enjoyed by all ages.
I looked at various streaming sites to see if any offered it for free. I found none, but the Clark County Public Library has a copy of the DVD.
Be watching for the next edition of Reel Classics, and enjoy the trailer below.